Morrison, James, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Belarus said yesterday that the United States overreacted to plans for the relocation of the U.S. ambassador but also apologized for mishandling the announcement of a massive project to replace aging utilities in a diplomatic neighborhood outside the capital, Minsk.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko intervened at the last minute Tuesday and ordered a week's delay from yesterday's deadline for Ambassador Daniel Speckhard and 21 other ambassadors to vacate their official residences in a suburb called Drozdy, a leafy complex of mansions once occupied by top Soviet officials.
His action averted a planned diplomatic walkout by the 15 countries of the European Union, which were ready to recall their ambassadors.
"We have apologized," said Arkady Cherepansky, charge d'affaires at the Belarussian Embassy in Washington. "We did not act in the manner that such a sensitive situation requires."
Nevertheless, he said he thought the United States overreacted by threatening to retaliate against Belarussian Ambassador Valery Tsepkalo, who is on vacation.
A State Department official told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the Belarussian ambassador would suffer the same consequences if Mr. Speckhard was evicted from his residence.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin repeated the warning yesterday.
"We have warned [Belarus] that these measures violate the Vienna Convention [on diplomatic protocol] . . . and that the United States would be forced to take retaliatory measures if the Belarussian government carried through with its plan," he said.
Mr. Rubin also denounced "this crass and disingenuous eviction attempt." He has speculated that the authoritarian Belarussian government might be trying to repossess the property. All of the residences are rented from the government, except for the Russian ambassador's home, which Moscow purchased.
Belarus has not said how long it expects the repairs to take or whether ambassadors can return after the work is finished.
Belarus notified foreign ambassadors in April that they would have to leave their residences so the government could replace the sewage system, electrical wires and water pipelines. …